686 Powell Street was once known as the Bows and Arrows Hall. In Vancouver’s early decades, Squamish longshoremen specialized as lumber handlers on the waterfront. In 1906, they formed Local 526 of the Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies), and held their meetings on the Mission reserve in North Vancouver. Local 526 won some initial battles with the shipping companies, but was crushed the following year during a lockout designed to raise working hours and lower wages. In 1913, Squamish longshoremen again organized, this time into Local 38-57 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, which became known as the “Bows and Arrows.” Over the years, several prominent aboriginal leaders in BC earned a living as lumber handlers on the waterfront, notably Joe Capilano, Andrew Paull, and Dan George.
The Bows and Arrows Hall was used as the headquarters of the central strike committee during the 1935 waterfront strike. A police memo from June 1935 reported that “doormen are located inside each door, keeping watch and checking persons who may wish to enter. Nobody is allowed to enter without first giving a signal. As yet we do not know the correct signal.” Chief Constable Foster was hoping the ever-present police patrols on Heatley Street would encourage the strike committee to relocate.
At some point, perhaps in the 1950s, 686 Powell became a licensed establishment. In the early 1980s, punk bands with names like Face Value, the Tickets, and the Modernettes played there when it was called the Waterfront. Under the names Heatley Rooms and Teslin Lodge, the upstairs operated as an SRO hotel until 1991 when it was converted into Harbourfront Hostel. Downstairs became Teaser’s Bar & Grill, still under the grandfathered supper club license until it was shut down 2001. Keeping in line with its long history of failed social experimentation in the Downtown Eastside, City Council agreed to transfer the liquor license to Granville Street. This was a good thing, City staff argued, because there was “an over concentration of liquor licensed establishments” in the DTES, and – apparently – not enough on Granville.
Today 686 Powell sits empty and derelict, its history forgotten, while homeless people clutter the streets. I never would have noticed the building if I didn’t go looking. The absence of a “for sale” or “for lease” sign or development application shows that the owner got what they wanted – a lucrative liquor licence – and has no incentive to do anything with the leftover carcass except to sit on it until market conditions ripen.